Lake Mary based AAA recently updated its restaurant Approval Requirements & Diamond Rating Guidelines, the blueprint AAA inspectors use to evaluate 30,000 AAA Approved and Diamond Rated restaurants throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. The guidelines, last updated in 2009, reflect changing industry trends, incorporating input from AAA’s hotel and restaurant inspectors, AAA members and industry professionals.
As an example of change reflected in the revised guidelines, AAA’s Director of Content Development Michael Petrone cites growing consumer interest in food-related components of the dining experience. “Diners are more educated than ever before about food trends, preparation styles and ingredient sourcing. They are eager to interact with knowledgeable wait staff and culinary experts, learning how dishes are prepared and where ingredients originate. As the focus continues to shift in this direction, formalities such as opulent décor and place settings are becoming less important.”
In response to this shift and feedback gathered from AAA members, food-related attributes now account for 50 percent of a restaurant’s Diamond Rating.
Periodic adjustments to the guidelines are also prompted by a trickle-down effect, as offerings previously specific to higher-rated restaurants have become more prevalent. For example, chef’s tasting menus and suggested food and beverage pairings are now introduced at the Three and Four Diamond Rating levels. Menu ingredients are evolving as well, increasing access to once-rare items such as farm-branded products, ancient grains, locally sourced ingredients and artisan creations.
As the restaurant industry continues to change, AAA inspectors continually note the newest dining and hospitality trends. The industry’s most talented chefs, for example, are expanding beyond the fine-dining world to spearhead new fast-casual chains, a domain typically reserved for fast-food restaurants. Now consumers can find numerous gastropubs and micro-distilleries serving high-quality food, healthfully prepared vegetables and small portions for sharing. With improved mobile options for reservations, ordering and payment, technology is also gaining an increasing presence in the food service experience.
“The updated guidelines reinforce AAA’s longstanding pledge to provide our members with reliable travel information through on-site inspections and accurate ratings for the restaurants we approve,” added Petrone. “We regularly evaluate and update the guidelines to ensure they remain accurate and relevant to the travel and dining needs of AAA’s more than 56 million members.”
The assignment of a rating of One to Five Diamonds marks the completion of a successful on-site evaluation by a professional AAA inspector. The first step is to meet the basic cleanliness, comfort and hospitality requirements to become AAA Approved. Consumers can find Diamond Rated restaurants in the free AAA Mobile app, online TripTik Travel Planner and regional TourBook guides available at AAA offices.